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Security News and Bulletin - SPYWARE

[This message was emailed to Vet Med faculty, staff and students due to increasing number of spyware infections]

Remember secure computing is everyone's responsibility. The information below can help ensure that your computer will be free from hackers, viruses, and spyware, and the skills you learn will enable you to stay a step ahead of tomorrow's threats.

What is spyware?
Spyware programs (also called malware, scumware, and adware) are software programs that install themselves and run on your computer without your knowledge or consent. You don’t even need administrative access for these programs to be launched.

Typically, spyware gathers information about you by monitoring your computing activities and then transmits this information across the Internet for advertising purposes. Spyware can also download files, run programs in the background, and change your system settings. In addition to violating your privacy and potentially damaging your system, spyware can slow your computer down by stealing processing time from the CPU. Windows computers are most heavily targeted by spyware writers, just as they are most heavily targeted by virus writers.

How do you get spyware?

The main culprits in spyware transmission are:

    • Unprotected web browsing
    Many advertising companies send tracking files, called "cookies," along with their banner ads, or provide "special offers" that, when clicked, install extra software without your consent.
    • Peer-to-peer applications
    Kazaa Lite and Limewire are notorious carriers of spyware installation packages. Many other MP3-sharing and file sharing programs also cause spyware problems.
    • Opportunistic “freeware” or “shareware” programs
    WeatherBug and Infuzer (copying data into your calendar) are among the programs known for collecting more information than authorized. Some freeware is legitimate, and others are spyware-ridden -- be careful if you install any software you're not familiar with.
    • Web browsers using cookies
    Internet Explorer is the most vulnerable to spyware, but any web browser can permit spyware to be installed if you click on a page that sends it.
    • Some legitimate commercial software
    Windows Media Player and America Online are considered sources of spyware by Ad-Aware and other anti-spyware programs. Each installation of Windows Media Player includes a uniquely identifying number that is provided to Microsoft, and America Online installs additional software packages that report usage data to advertising companies. Some anti-spyware programs also protest the actions taken by eBay toolbar software or Amazon.com's persistent cookies, objecting that they gather too much data unrelated to your use of eBay or Amazon.

Why You Should Care
Quite simply, you should care about computer security because it will save you time in the long run. Remember it is much easier to keep your system secure than to have to panic and get things fixed.

Thanks for reading and feel free to visit the Computing Services website for additional security information,
Candice Solomon-Strutz
Senior Coordinator of PC Support
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign